Jacob Steere-Williams

Associate Professor, Director of the Graduate History Program

Address: Maybank 310
Office Hours: Zoom, by appointment.
Phone: 843.953.1420
E-mail: steerewilliamsj@cofc.edu

Jacob Steere-Williams is a historian of epidemic disease, particularly in nineteenth and early-twentieth century Britain and the former British colonies. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota and began teaching at the College in 2011. Dr. Steere-Williams is a faculty affiliate with a number of campus programs, including the British Studies minor, the Medical Humanities minor, the Geography minor, the Carolina Lowcountry & Atlantic World Program (CLAW), and the Urban Studies Program. He also works closely with the Waring Historical Library on the campus MUSC, where he currently serves as the Vice-President of the Waring Historical Society.

Professor Steere-Williams is the author of the 2020 book The Filth Disease: Typhoid Fever and the Practices of Epidemiology in Victorian England, published by the University of Rochester Press in the Studies in Medical History series. The Filth Disease is the first book to examine one of the most feared and important epidemic diseases of the nineteenth century, typhoid fever. The book argues that typhoid, a food-and-water borne infectious disease, was a model disease for the emerging field of epidemiology. The Filth Disease explores the everyday practices of epidemiologists in Britain and across the British colonies. It follows how on-the-ground investigations of faulty sewers, leaky house drains, contaminated milk, and polluted waterways forged broader ideas of how to study epidemics and how to make public health change.

His new book project, Carbolic Colonialism, examines the growth and use of disinfectants in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, particularly in colonial India and South Africa during the Third Plague Pandemic.

In addition to a number of scholarly articles and book chapters, Dr. Steere-Williams has actively contributed public-facing essays and op-eds, including in CNN and The Post and Courier. His current public history projects include the Waring Library’s COVID-19 oral history project, “Documenting Life During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” and the NYU COVID-19 History Working Group.

He has been a consultant on a number of important digitization projects, including a collaboration between the Royal College of Physicians of London and Wiley publishing, to create a digital archive. Of the RCP.

Dr. Steere-Williams also serves as the Associate Editor of The Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, one of the top journals in the field. For years he served as the Book Reviews Editor. He is an active member of the American Association for the History of Medicine, and has served on a number of committees, including the Rosen Prize committee for the best book in the history of public health.

Professor Steere-Williams teaches a number of classes that focus on the history of disease and public health (including History 116: Epidemics and Revolutions; History 291: Disease, Medicine, and History), and on modern British history (History 357: Victorian Britain).

He also serves as the Director of Graduate Studies for the MA Program in History.


2011 – Ph.D., University of Minnesota

Research Interests

Dr. Steere-Williams has extensive research experience in British as well as former British colonial archives, including South Africa and Australia. His work has been funded by the Wellcome Trust, and explores themes surrounding the uneven development of modern public health, the centralization of state medicine, the production of scientific knowledge, and the notions of scientific expertise and technoscience. His work covers the history of epidemiology, bacteriology, and veterinary medicine, and he is also interested in the popularization of science and medicine, particularly through the Victorian periodical press.

Courses Taught

History 116: Epidemics and Revolutions
History 291: Disease, Medicine, and History
History 241: Perspectives on British Imperialism
History 357: Victorian Britain
History 592: Science, Medicine, and Empire in the Modern World

Honors and Awards

Distinguished Teaching Award, College of Charleston, 2014
Faculty Research and Development Grant, College of Charleston, 2014
Research Fellowship, Wellcome Trust, 2011



The Filth Disease: Typhoid Fever and the Practices of Epidemiology in Victorian England (University of Rochester Press, 2020).

Recent Peer Reviewed Articles, Book Chapters, and Essays:

“A Menace or a Martyr to the Public’s Health?” Isis (December 2020)

“‘Coolie’ Control: State Surveillance and the Labor of Disinfection across the late Victorian British Empire,” in Rob Heynen and Emily van der Meulen (eds.) Making Surveillance Societies: Transnational Histories (University of Toronto Press, 2019). 

“Bloeming-typhoidtein: Epidemic Jingoism and the Typhoid Corpse in South Africa,” in Christos Lynteris and Nicholas Evans (eds.) Post-Mortem Contagion: Infectious Corpses and Contested Burials: Medicine and Biomedical Science in Modern History Series (London: Palgrave, 2018). 

“Edward Ballard and the Practices of Epidemiology in the 19th century United Kingdom,” American Journal of Public Health 108: (December 2018), 1632-1638.

“Performing State Medicine During its ‘Frustrating’ Years: Epidemiology and Bacteriology at the Local Government Board, 1870-1900,” Social History of Medicine(Spring 2015) 28:1, 82-107.

“Milking Science for its Worth: The Reform of the British Milk Trade in the Late Nineteenth Century,” Agricultural History (Spring 2015), 89:2, 263-288.

“Lacteal Crises: Debates Over Milk Purity in Victorian Britain,” in Tabitha Sparks and Louise Penner (eds.) Victorian Medicine and Popular Culture (Pickering and Chatto, 2015), 53-67.

“A Conflict of Analysis: Analytical Chemistry and Milk Adulteration in Victorian Britain,” Ambix (August 2014), 61;3, 279-298.

Public History Scholarship and Media Appearances:

“Living through COVID-19: What Can We Learn From Typhoid Epidemics of the Past?” New York Academy of Medicine Blog: https://nyamcenterforhistory.org/2020/09/15/living-through-covid-19-what-can-we-learn-from-typhoid-epidemics-of-the-past/

“Typhoid Fever and Epidemiology in Victorian England,” podcast interview, Infectious Historians: https://infectioushistorians.com/2020/10/18/typhoid-fever-and-epidemiology/

“Typhoid Fever and the Origins of Epidemiology in Victorian Britain,” New York Academy of Medicine, Webinar: https://www.nyam.org/events/event/typhoid-fever-and-origins-epidemiology-victorian-britain/

Charleston, WCBD News, Mt. Pleasant: https://www.counton2.com/weather/a-moment-of-science/charlestons-pandemic-history-a-moment-of-science/

“History’s Ears are Ringing: Examining Archival Evidence of Past Pandemics,” Royal College of Physicians of London, Wiley Publishing, and Library Journal Webinar: https://www.libraryjournal.com/?event=historys-ears-are-ringing-%E2%80%AFexamining-archival-evidence-of-past-pandemics

“Exploring Previous Pandemics,” Interview appearance, Charleston Fox News 24: https://foxcharleston.com/news-now/exploring-previous-pandemics/

“Charleston learned the Hard Way What Happens When You End a Quarantine Too Soon” Post and Courier, Op-ed, April 25, 2020: https://www.postandcourier.com/health/covid19/commentary-charleston-learned-the-hard-way-what-happens-when-you-end-a-quarantine-too-soon/article_7a1eaffc-83e6-11ea-b4e7-ffbfadf277c4.html

“Start Remembering this Pandemic Now,” Post and Courier, Op-ed, March 28, 2020: https://www.postandcourier.com/health/covid19/commentary-start-remembering-this-pandemic-now/article_af325840-6f89-11ea-8049-0bfb78c18d25.html

“Epidemics Past and Present Provide Context for Coronavirus,” Op-ed, Post and Courier, March 24, 2020: https://www.postandcourier.com/opinion/commentary/commentary-epidemics-past-and-present-provide-context-for-coronavirus/article_b7015dfa-5e5e-11ea-b6b9-1717c087d543.html

“Trump’s outrageous Suggestion Comes with a Dark History,” Op-ed, CNN, April 26, 2020: https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/26/opinions/disinfectant-has-a-dark-medical-history-le-zotte-steere-williams/index.html

“For Charleston, Outbreaks and Epidemics are a Key Part of History,” Charleston City Paper, April 1, 2020:  https://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/story/for-charleston-outbreaks-and-epidemics-are-a-key-part-of-history?oid=31083858

“History Professor Sheds Light on Past Pandemics,” The College Today, April 13, 2020: https://today.cofc.edu/2020/04/13/history-professor-sheds-light-on-past-pandemics/

Reopening Too Soon? Lowcountry Mayor and Charleston Historian Reflect on the Spanish Flu, South Carolina Public Radio, May 20, 2020. https://www.southcarolinapublicradio.org/post/reopening-too-soon-lowcountry-mayor-and-charleston-historian-reflect-spanish-flu